Friday, December 9, 2011

CD Review: ‘Three Musicians’ Joan Stiles, Joel Frahm, Matt Wilson


Three Musicians

Fearless jazz improv in an unusual jazz trio that nevertheless displays a pleasing and harmonic set. By the way, that’s a Picasso inspired collage on the cover, and the titles here draw their inspiration from the cubist masterpiece, “Three Musicians seen below left. Stiles does more than get around the piano with a playful virtuosity, she did the collage too. The cubist theme becomes apparent very soon after putting this one in the CD player.


The trio consists of saxophonist, Joel Frahm and drummer, Matt Wilson with Stiles covering all 88 keys and leaving a bass player out of work. And that is much to the chagrin of the second tracks co-writer (half-writer?) Jack Bruce, bass player for the psychedelic band, Cream. I say half-writer because the track is called “In The Sunshine Of My Funny Valentines Love”. You can probably figure it out for yourself, but it is a ‘mashup’ of Bruce’s signature Cream tune and Richard Rogers ‘My Funny Valentine’ and just to keep things interesting, there’s a Bach Fugue in there somewhere too.

Did I mention Stiles has a sharp (pun intended) sense of humor and an ardent playfulness? The amazing thing here, is despite the lack of a bass player that Stiles has the chops to cover the bass on the piano without sacrificing the harmonic and rhythmic duties one would expect. Another similar tune is “Brother Can You Spare A Dime/Can’t Buy Me Love”  This mix of he old with the comparative modern makes for a captivating ear candy.

Even when the song isn’t such an obvious blend of tunes, Stiles still injects spontaneous little ideas into the tunes. On the opening song, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy, the musical by  Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, you can’t miss a few bars from “Pent Up House” the Sonny Rollin’s tune which doesn’t so much as stray fro “Roses” as emphasize the theme.

Track three is a Stiles composition that just crams in the soul and swings with the best, “West End Boogie’ is a fun tune. Then they segue into “You Don’t Know What Love Is” maybe the one tune with love gone wrong as it’s theme. Then comes Bernstein’s “Lucky To Be Me” where Stiles flies by the seat of her pants and makes it look like it’s in the book that way by referencing a number of other Bernstein songs.

Then the adventurous trio romp through “All The Things You Are” and take this standard to non standard places. Then comes “Blood Count’ the Billy Strayhorn  classic turned down to slow simmer here. One of my favorite quite parts of the album.

Then comes the flash and glitter of Mary Lou Williams, “O.W.” followed by two Thelonious Monk tunes, “Introspection” and ‘Nutty” which takes the title to heart as the trio scrambles thru the rhythmic streets and alleys of the songs structure never once referring to  Google Street Maps.

The album closes with another Stiles Original, “Bebopicity”, a blazing tribute to bop that really shows off the trios ability to take a tune through it’s paces in time structure but musically as well.

This is the third album from Stiles, the first with a stripped down instrumental format. It may sound, from the description, like the bass player just didn’t show up and they didn’t want to waste the studio time, but let me assure you, the way Stiles uses the entire piano, and the way Frahm and Wilson pickup the lower register, the bass would have only made them not have to work as hard, not necessarily sound better.

It may just be Three Musicians but that’s plenty when you are Joan Stiles.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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